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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Cycling and the Law: How Much should be Followed? And how Closely?

Trigger (heh) Warning:  The following is an opinion piece.  It is my opinion of the Law in my State.  It may not reflect the law in your State or Country.  Knowing your laws is not my freaking job (heck, I barely know the laws in my own State!), it’s your job.  This post is meant to be a humorous look at how cycling laws actually work – and how that differs from intention.  In this off-season, I do plan on interviewing local and State law enforcement to get a better understanding of “how law works” but that’s for a different post.  You have been trigger (heh) warned.

The cycling club received an interesting email forwarded from a cyclist/attorney in the club.  The sender and I don’t always see eye to eye on matters – mostly because she has a tendency to blame motorist’s angst against cyclists on “the fast riders”.  Like me.  She didn’t have to bring it up this time, though.  The email hit that note already.

Nothing gets me going like the misplaced, misguided bony finger of blame.

That said, the gist of the email centered around cycling Law and how lawyers will sink to any level they can to make it look like the cyclist is to blame for getting himself/herself run over.  It’s noble enough, the email, if a little silly in its wrongheadedness in certain points.  The idea being, motorists hate us, so follow the rules of the road so they won’t – and God forbid, one of those motorists runs you over, it’ll be better to be able to say that you always stop for stop signs and stop lights.  Seriously.

Rather than break down the whole email, I’ll just get into some specific points, quickly.  Then we’ll do some fun math.

Why It Matters if We Run Stop Signs and Red Lights on Our Bike

Well, for one, if you make it a habit of running red lights, we won’t have to worry about you being a cyclist for very long.  You’ll be a spot on the ground resembling a Jackson Pollock painting before long.  Problem solved.  The stop signs, now that gets interesting:

Questions followed such as: “Do you stop for stop signs and stop lights when you ride? Do you recall ever riding through one without stopping?” Setting aside whether those responses would be admitted at a trial, how bad would it have been for him if he had to truthfully admit he commonly failed to stop or even that there were occasions when he did not stop.

Okay, stop right there.  Stopping for stop signs.  Law requires that we stop, actually stop at a stop sign, yes?  Yes.  A stop is considered a foot down on the ground, stop.  Then go.  Now, imagine a 25 cyclist deep group cruising down the road, as law allows, two-abreast.  We come to a stop sign and the first two stop, foot down, and go.  The next two slide up, foot down, and go.  The next two repeat until all 25 cyclists are down the road.  Typically you’ve got three seconds plus another ten (to get through) in between each two going through the intersection.  That’s the letter of the Law.  That’s not what we do, though.  We get to an intersection, wave traffic through, then we all go en masse (two abreast).  The letter of the Law takes more than two minutes for a group to clear an intersection.  The right way takes between five seconds and 20.

Now, how happy do you think motorists are going to be if we follow the letter of the Law?  Do you think a driver stuck behind that idiocy will say, “Oh, look Helen!  Those cyclists are stopping as they should at a stop sign!”  Uh, no.  After twenty seconds he’s going to lose his freaking mind – because that’s about the attention span of a motorist.  More:

Second, when I speak to cycling groups I remind them how much animosity exists on the part of drivers against cyclists. The comments we hear from prospective jurors about this is astonishing. Too many of them consider us to be reckless law breakers who do not stop at lights and block the entire lane on group rides.

Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty!  I’ve done the math on this page once before, but let’s do it again.  Figure a 25 cyclist group (we’ve had up to 40).  No intelligent cyclist is going to give up the lane, so whether a motorist is passing a single file line or a double pace-line “blocking the entire lane”, the motorist is going to have to cross the yellow into the oncoming traffic lane to pass the cyclists.  Put simply, a single-file line is twice as difficult to pass because it’s twice as long.  Figure a bike is 6 feet long (or two meters).  Add an extra foot for the space between the wheels and you’ve got seven feet per bike.  Multiply that by 25:  175′.  Double pace-line?  91′ (you have to account for that odd 25th cyclist, so you’re multiplying by 13 instead of 12).  Better, multiply that out with a larger 40 person group.  No motorist would be able to pass a group in those conditions.  How angry do you think motorists would be then?  Words cannot convey.

Better, legislation has been proposed by states that would limit drafting groups to 4 cyclists that must be separated by ten to twenty feet.  Do the math on how long that 25 person single-file group would be with ten more feet in between each four cyclists…  235 feet.  Five full-length semi-trailers.

Folks, you think motorists are angry now, let’s follow the rules as they’re written and you’ll see how wrong you really are.  You haven’t seen anger yet.

On the plus-side, as they’re flying by chucking pop bottles out the window at us, at least we’ll be able to claim the moral high ground.

UPDATE: I should add, I do, at every chance, give a vehicle the right of way whether it’s mine or not. We cyclist never tend to win in a fight against a vehicle so I always figured better safe than sorry.

The Second Commandment for the Cycling Enthusiast:  Thou Shalt take a Moment to Admire God’s Green Earth and Smell the Roses.

I’d say my biggest mistake early in cycling had nothing to do with fashion, though I committed some pretty egregious errors.  My biggest mistake was trying to hammer all of the time.  I had my reasons and I regret nothing, and truthfully, without that two-year period I don’t know if I’d be the cyclist I am today.  On the other hand, I think I could have gotten just as fast taking it easier two or three days a week.  I was your typical “my easy days were too hard and my hard days were too easy” cyclist.

Even riding with my wife I had a tough time keeping a lid on my enthusiastic need to go fast.  Add to that, a fast bike, and I often resembled a little puppy being taken for a walk; Always struggling against the leash that holds him back from tearing down the road.

As I’ve matured as a cyclist, still retaining every bit of my enthusiasm, I’ve come to understand what is popular training protocol:  Take some time to ride for fun.  Not only does the body need the rest, it’s quite nice to take a look at what you’ve been missing while your head is down and you’re hammering away, tongue dangling inches from your spokes.

Ride hard, yes, but it doesn’t have to be all hammer all of the time.

By all means, turn a few rides a week into an MC Hammer song, without the “Stop”.  At the same time, don’t continually do something that will be regrettable in the future.  Take some time to learn how to enjoy a ride every now and again.  Take some time to admire your surroundings and “smell the roses”.  It’s good for the spirit.

 

Dressing Up a Road Bike;  The Three F’s:  Fashion, Function and Form

When it comes to road cycling – at least for adults – there are three main things to consider.

Function

Road bikes, well taken care of, are usually a thing of beauty.  Of those bikes that aren’t well cared for, the collection of dirt and grime will, eventually, affect performance.

Right or wrong, show up with a bike that shows you don’t care for it and others may be leery about riding with you.  You may think that is arrogant or in bad taste, but that’s because you’re not well-versed in road cycling in a group of people.

Well cared for bikes ride better and last longer.  Those who care for their bikes will tend to notice when parts are deteriorating and change them before they cause a breakdown.  Breakdowns at 30-40 feet (10-13 meters) per second are bad and can cause a serious accident.  It’s not arrogance, it’s more like self-preservation and that’ll take care of function.  If you’re going to ride by yourself, don’t sweat how you treat your bike.  If you want to ride with others, take care of it (them) – or you’ll probably find yourself riding alone anyway.

UPDATE:  I should also add, the function of the bicycle vastly outweighs the fashion.  Pretty parts that don’t function only matter to the poseur.  This point is important to remember.  Function first, fashion thereafter.

Form

Form is very simple:  We get our bikes fitted to us by a professional because we spend a ridiculous amount of time on our bikes and if we’re going to ride them well and comfortably, set-up is incredibly important.  Eventually, with enough studying and practice, we can even learn enough to fit our own bikes.

Fashion

That leaves fashion, and I’m big on that.

 

The first, most important component of cycling fashion is looking competent and comfortable on the bike – see “Form” and get your bike fitted, and follow that up with practice.  Beyond that, it gets personal.  Color scheme, saddle color, bar tape color, even cable housing color.

For those who care, there are several “Rules” one can use as a guide to make one’s bike look “pro”, published by the Velominati – and they’re a great place to start though many are put off by the fact that the Rules exist in the first place.  As someone who didn’t follow any of the Rules in the beginning, then came to find  some value in them, I’ll simply offer my experience.  You do what pleases you.  I maintain that everyone should do what makes them happy; what makes you look at your bike and smile is most important.

Originally, when I chose my initial “favorite color scheme for a bike”, I went with red, white and blue.  I loved the USA color scheme in a bike for two reasons:

  1. Rednecks love the Stars and Stripes.  Seen on the road with a red, white and blue bike and full kit, I get a break from people who would normally buzz a cyclist in their vehicle for the sport of it.
  2. The Stars and Stripes is an AWESOME middle finger to a tiny but loud minority of jerks who tend to hate America from within.

The problem is, as cool as that color scheme is, it’s kind of a one-trick pony…. and it wore on me after a bit.  Then I bought my Specialized and I decided to take the Trek back to classic black bar tape – and switch to red and black for both the bikes.

Red on black has proven a more versatile color scheme – and much easier to buy kit for:

Either go with the rules or don’t… or better yet, go with most of the rules and add a little flare.  Whatever makes you happy, just remember the golden rule:

Even if you don’t feel fast, at least look fast.

9,000 Miles Flies By… without much Fanfare

It currently “feels like” 15° F.  For my European and Canadian friends, that’s a balmy -9.444° C.  Folks, it’s freaking cold outside and I won’t lie, I want to ride outside about as much as I want hemorrhoids.  It’s 5:30 am and I’m trying to work up the gumption to at least take the mountain bike out this morning but it’s not easy.  It was even colder yesterday morning:  It felt like 10° F or something like -12° C with 10-15 mph winds out of the west.  That’s just a bridge too far for this guy.  I rode my 5200 on the trainer all week long and crossed the 9,000 mile mark (14,484 km) on Friday.  In fact, I hit it exactly, only having ten miles to go, I stopped at a half-hour just so I could say I did the ten miles:9000!.JPG

My buddy Mike likes to complain that trainer miles don’t count but I don’t care – I rode ’em, they count.

So, will I ride outside this morning?  It’s doubtful, but if I can convince Mike and my wife to take the mountain bikes out, I’ll be a ridin’ fool.  One thing is for certain:  Mountain bikes outside or 5200 on the trainer in the comfort of my living room, either one beats polishing the couch with my butt.

Incidentally, I just passed another neat milestone.  Going back to when I started keeping track of mileage in 2011 (shortly before I started this blog), I just crossed over 44,000 miles (70,800 km).  I once thought about canning the tracking app.  In fact, I didn’t actually keep track of 2014, that 6,000 miles is a low-ball estimate – I’m quite certain I rode just as many miles as I did in 2015.  Now that I can see the total mileage, I’m glad I decided to go back to tracking it.  It’s nice to see the overall.  It’d be a stretch to say it’s motivational, but I do find it neat to check up on now and again.

Axis 1.0 Brakes… If they come on Any Bike I Buy in the Future, I’ll Throw ‘Em in the Garbage. My First Bad Review of a Product in Seven Years

Normally, if I don’t like something I simply won’t write about it.  I don’t need to be difficult and I certainly don’t need to be mean.  Brakes are a different story though.  We’re talking about the things that stop you – they’re kind of important, ya know?

Specialized likes to use Axis 1.0 on their entry-level high-end bikes.  Those entry-level bikes were once called “Comp”, then Elite.  In other words, Venge Comp, Alias Comp, then Venge Elite….

The Venge Comp and Elite came with 105 brakes.  This year, Specialized are going with the Comp and Elite divisions and then the entry-level model is the Sport.  That’s the one I’m talking about.  The Tarmac Sport, at $1,900 has Axis brakes.  So does the Amira SL, the Amira SL4 Sport… you see the pattern.  The Venge Elite still has 105’s.

Anyway, back to the point of this post.  We had nothing but trouble with my wife’s set of Axis caliper brakes.  They were horrible.  They stopped my wife’s bike poorly, they didn’t have enough spring in them so the cable would bind up and the pads would rub the wheel because of it.  We had the bike in to the shop four times trying to get them to work right (all of the work was done free of charge).  Nothing would work for long.

Axis_RoubaixSportBrake.jpg

I bought a new set of brakes for my Venge, that actually match the Venge perfectly, so I put my 105 brakes on my wife’s bike.  What do you know, they work like you’d expect brakes to…  Or in other words, the problem was the Axis 1.0 caliper brakes, not something else in the braking system.

The Axis brakes were so bad, I didn’t even bother to save them.  After the switch was complete and everything was set up to my liking, I took the Axis brakes to the shop and gave them to the owner.  I don’t even want them in my part collection – I don’t even want to be tempted to use them in a pinch.  Now in fairness, I could have gotten a bad set of brakes but I doubt I’ll ever find out for sure.  From now until I’m worm food, I’ll upgrade any set of Axis brakes I get on a bike for 105’s or better.  They’re not even worth the chance of the headache.

This has been my experience.

 

My New Brake Job on the Venge – Sometimes Gaudy Works

Folks, sometimes gaudy works on a bicycle.  It just does.  My Specialized started out as a stripped down, base model with some cheap parts on it to just get it on the road for a reasonable price.  Over the last several years I’ve painstakingly turned it into what I find to be a beautiful, working piece of painted carbon fiber and epoxy art.  Now I’m getting down to the little bits and pieces, even though I thought I was done just a short while ago.  Whilst perusing Nashbar a month ago or so back I found a set of brakes on sale that piqued my interest.

The bike started out as a Specialized with an FSA crank to keep the price down.  That led to my purchasing a set of lighter, upgraded red and white trimmed set of wheels.  Then came a carbon-wrapped aluminum stem that, if you ask me, brought the whole mix together.  Then came the S-Works Aerofly handlebar and S-Works crankset:

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Sadly, my ability to photograph a bike needed a little work back then

Unfortunately, I had some serious problems with the rims on the wheels pictured above.  They were light but a little too light for my 175 pounds.  I kept breaking spoke nipples on my front wheel and the rear wheel wouldn’t hold its true for more than a few weeks.  I began investigating ways to get around the issue, because I really loved how the red and white Vuelta decals worked with the bike.  Those wheels are only sold as a set though, so I ended up purchasing new rims from Velocity and reused the hubs and spokes.  My problems ended.  The change cost me a hundred grams, or a quarter-pound, but I’d rather that than all of the problems I had.  So the wheels decals changed, and I tidied up the stem, having it cut to size:

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Photo taking abilities have obviously been honed…

After that photo was taken I declared my bike was done… right up until I saw that set of FSA brakes.  Originally I closed the webpage without purchasing the brakes.  I came back to it several weeks later after deciding to pick up a couple things for my wife…  Keep in mind, sometimes gaudy works:
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Oh yes it does.

The whole project, installing the FSA brakes on my bike and installing my 105 brakes on my wife’s bike took about an hour, including trimming the housings and cutting the cables to the right length (which occurred after this photo was taken – I had to pick up the pinch-on end caps at the shop and daylight was fading).

 

 

My Bike is Perfect. I don’t need Anything Better. Well….

I did my Christmas shopping for my wife (and I) Tuesday morning.  I picked up two thermal long-sleeve jerseys for her and they both match her road bike.

also did some “me” shopping at the same time… and I decided to put new brakes on the Venge.  As you’ll see, they’re perfect.

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Like I said, perfect.  Note the stem on my bike:  FSA carbon-wrapped aluminum…  PERFECT.  Typically the brakes above retail for $150-$180.  I picked them up for $50.  Gotta love Nashbar!  I picked up my wife’s thermal jerseys, my brakes and a pair of LG bibs for less than the retail price of the brakes.  Talk about stretching a Dollar!

My wife will be getting a bonus gift, too.  My wife’s Alias came with an inferior set of brakes.  We’ve struggled with them, on and off, ever since she brought the bike home…  She’ll be getting the 105 brakes off of my Venge put on her bike (a HUGE upgrade from her Axis 1.0 brakes).  Her brake woes will finally be over, and for only the price of a cheap Christmas gift for me.  Better, I save 64 grams going to the FSA’s and my wife will save as much upgrading to the 105’s… There’s so much winning in the swap-out it’s ridiculous!

I’d never argue against what the great Eddy Merckx once said, “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades”, but I don’t mind ignoring it either, from time to time.  Upgrades are awesome and fun.  Oh, and the saved weight, as little as it will be, will drop the Venge into the 15 pound range.  It’ll be the high 15’s, but 15 nonetheless – and that’s all good.

And that brings me to a final point…  I have a job in one of the “nicest” cities in the United States of America, in terms of quality of life.  While the city caters ridiculously to the hippie crowd, it also goes to great lengths to be a cyclist/pedestrian friendly town.  This means their bike shops are awesome.  I’ve driven by one particular shop almost every day for the last two weeks and I finally decided to see what they were all about.

I walk in the front door and what do I see?  Keep in mind, this is a high-end bike shop in a very high-end city:

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Yep, a Madone 9.9 Race Shop Limited Edition.  Folks, let me tell you, that bike is a lot sexier in person.  I didn’t touch it, either – and I didn’t dare pick it up.  At a svelte 15 pounds on the nose, the super-aero super bike is a thing of beauty.  To a cycling enthusiast, well let’s just say it’s special.  They also run about $13,000 normally (it’s on sale right now, according to Trek’s website, for a mere $10,500 – the 9.0, a paltry $4,000 weighs slightly more than 17 pounds for the price conscious).

On leaving the shop I called my buddy, Mike to talk to him about my experience.  While I am definitely a Specialized guy, I have a warm place in my heart for Trek (the lengths I’ve gone so I could take my 5200 beyond its former glory should be enough of evidence of this).  My buddy, Mike is a full-fledged Trek guy, though.  He’s got a 5200 for his back-up bike and a Seven Series Di2.  When we got into the price of the bike, he asked rightly, “But would that be any better than what you already have?”

Actually, he was right.  It wouldn’t.  And my bike is even more limited than the Race Shop Limited Trek.  Of all the Specialized Venge’s on this planet, there’s only one exactly like mine.  The color-matched Blackburn cages and pedals, the S-Works crank and handlebar, the FSA carbon-wrapped stem… and my Venge is actually paid off.

Life is funny.  I walked out of that shop dragging a mop behind me to slop up the drool (figuratively, of course) and I ended up even more grateful for what I’ve got in the first place.  That’s what friends are for.

The Single Most Important Thing Every Solo Cyclist Needs to Know About Their Local Club

Most of the posts I’ve written about cycling over the last five years have involved many of my friends in some way.  I am, without doubt, exceptionally grateful for all of them.

And that’s just from the last two years.  None of my favorite cycling memories revolve around a solo ride.  My friends, after a lot of hanging around, invited me into their group and even allowed me to be the club president.  We’ve done road trips together, camped together, eaten together and put in thousands of miles pulling for each other.  Some of the guys I ride with have become my best friends.

Cycling simply wouldn’t be the same without them.  Oh, I’d still ride, it just wouldn’t be as fun.

So, here’s the most important thing every solo cyclist needs to know about their local club:  The lifeblood of a cycling club is its members.  Even though you think you’re too slow, too fat, too whatever, to fit in… as long as you’re not a giant @$$hole, you’re local club wants you to join them.  While you’re sitting there doubting they will accept you, they’re sitting at the local diner after a club ride trying to figure out how to attract you to their club.

Our club, while it has a wonderful well-deserved reputation for being a fast club, has a group that can fit any fitness level or desired pace, from Cat 1 down to the 80 year-old fellas who just want to cruise around the 20 mile block.  We even take care of the kids who want to ride with us…. all because clubs need members to function.

My friends, as you’re thinking about your New Year’s resolutions this year, think about joining your local cycling club.  Worst case scenario, you find out you don’t like anyone and you end up a solo cyclist again.  Best case, you have more fun than you thought possible – and you get some exercise as a perk.  The latter is the case I drew and I’ve never wanted to go back.

Don’t wait.  Find out where you fit in and ride.

The Downside of Being a Cyclist in Michigan… Come to Think of it, I only know of One.

It’s barely above freezing outside right now (Tuesday evening, 4:30pm).  We were going to ride tonight, with 15-20 mph winds.  No bid deal.  No, the problem is, along with the cold, gusts up to 45 mph.

Folks, that’s a bridge too far.

Trek on the trainer, DVD in the player, Bose surround sound blasting.  I’d love to be outside right now… but a cyclist has to know his limitations and 45 mph gusts are well beyond them!

I pounded out 45 minutes with a smile on my face, in the comfort of my living room.

In a few days, maybe only two, we get to the downside of being a cyclist in Michigan…  It’s cold, gloomy and it snows a lot. For three months, cycling will be sporadic at best, nonexistent at worst.  Such is life in Michigan.  On the plus-side of that equation, now is a time to work on the bikes, to take the forks and cranks apart to clean them out and get the steeds ready for the new year.  It’s a time for grinding it out on the trainer in preparation of the upcoming season.  It’s a time for tallying mileage and reflecting on another wonderful season.

It’s also a time to reflect on how lucky I am to live where I do.  Cycling in my town is very much a part of a happy life for a whole host of people.  We are lucky enough to have hundreds of miles of relatively quiet, paved roads to ride on.  We have our “up north”, where it’s quiet, with roads so suited to cycling it’s hard to put into words – they simply must be ridden to fully comprehend just how special it is (DALMAC is, without question, one of the best ways to experience this).

While this season is over, I have a lot to be grateful for – and even more to look forward to next season.

Staying Engaged on the Turbo Trainer for a Better, Stronger Cycling Season

If I hear one familiar refrain about spending time on the cycling torture device known as the turbo trainer, it’s that people have a tough time staying engaged, they have a tough time “working it”, or pushing hard…  The most successful cyclists I know have bitten the bullet and upgraded their standard turbo for a “smart” trainer and gotten on Zwift.  This solution, while fantastic for many, isn’t without its flaws.  It’s expensive.  Smart trainers, that will adjust resistance based on the Zwift program, run between $600 and $1,500 depending on the model and options you want.

If you can’t afford the upgrade (I don’t want to – you’re talking some serious cash to get my wife and I both on the system), there are tricks to staying engaged and working hard through the winter so you can enter the spring base mileage season ready to kick some butt.

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The tricks aren’t quite as important as the why, so I’ll start with that:

  1. I don’t want to play catch-up come Spring.  Catching up to all of my friends sucks.
  2. Most of my friends will be working hard through the winter so they don’t have to play catch-up.
  3. Playing catch-up sucks.

Those three reasons alone are my motivation.  If I slack, I will pay for my easy off-season.

This isn’t, of course, to say that I have to ride my bike on the turbo for hours on end, I don’t (hell, I won’t).  What I do have to stick with is a good, solid 45 minute workout.  As long as I’m pushing hard gears a few times a week, with a couple of easy days in there, I’ll come out of winter with only a little endurance to build up, and fortunately I love riding my bike, so endurance building is right up my alley.

In the end, staying engaged whilst on the trainer boils down to, “I have to”, simply because keeping the effort going through the winter beats coming back and trying to play catch-up while losing the ten pounds I put on because I was taking it easy all winter in the first place.

So, here are my tricks, in no particular order:

  • Push hard gears on the hardest resistance setting.  Three days a week I should climb down and think, “man that sucked”.
  • When I want to shift to an easier gear I think, “Will taking it easy today help me in the Spring?”
  • Rinse and repeat that last thought.
  • Spend as much time outside on the bike as possible.  Spending time riding outside helps me to keep my eye on the prize when I’m on the trainer.
  • Look at the positives;  When I ride the trainer I don’t have to put on all of my cold-weather clothing (jackets, foot covers, wool socks, hat, neck gaiter, gloves, layers, layers, layers, etc.).  It’s a tee-shirt and a pair of shorts.
  • A good movie.  I own more than a hundred, not to mention Netflix and Xfinity on Demand.  A good movie will easily sustain me for the 45 minutes I need to get through a decent trainer workout.

In the end, it’s all about where I want to be in the Spring.  I want to be at the front of the group, able to drive the pace.  I don’t want to be at the back, trying to hold on to the group, struggling to keep up.  Sadly, it’s one or the other.